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Some eminent domain FAQs

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2023 | Eminent Domain

Property owners in California and around the country may be aware that the government can use the power of eminent domain to take private property and convert it to public use. Local, state and federal governments usually use eminent domain to acquire land to build airports, roads or other infrastructure, but a controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling extended eminent domain to allow the government to transfer property from one private party to another.

The Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause requires the government to provide fair compensation when it uses its powers of eminent domain to acquire private property. This means that the government must pay a fair market price for property even when its owner is compelled to sell. A property owner can sue the government if they feel the price they are being offered is too low. They can also take legal action when they believe the compulsory sale is unnecessary.

The Little Pink House

Eminent domain became the subject of intense legal debate in 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in what the press dubbed the Little Pink House case. The case was brought by a Connecticut woman who objected to her home being purchased by the government and transferred to a private party. The local municipality used its eminent domain powers to acquire the home as part of an urban redevelopment project. The justices ruled that using eminent domain to transfer property to a private party does not violate the Takings Clause as long as the community enjoys some sort of benefit. The justices determined that this community benefit amounts to public use.

Fair compensation

Cases involving eminent domain are often contentious because people tend to object strongly when they are compelled to sell their property. Eminent domain has been upheld by the courts because building infrastructure is crucial, but the U.S. Constitution requires the government to only use its eminent domain powers when necessary and compensate property owners fairly.